India on my mind

30 11 2008

WHILE DARTING to and fro one meeting to another last November 27, 2008, Thursday, I got this text message on my office mobile, at 1:47:50 P.M., that read (edited and printed here on conventional written English): “Heard about the terrorist attacks in Mumbai? Oberoi was one of the places targeted.  Imagine if we were on a trip to India and had stopped over for dinner at Oberoi Mumbai liked we used to? Yikes!


For a moment, I felt too numb with fear to move.  Though I’ve been to India only once, I have really come to love that country!  So the text message came as really sad news.  I’ve been thinking about it (India) lately, and my friend’s text message came at an inopportune time – just right around days when I was relishing happy thoughts of my Indian gastronomic adventures.


Quite obviously, I’ve been meaning to write down my thoughts about Indian cuisine.  Earlier in that week, I thought I could finally get ‘current’ material to write about, especially since Batman has been telling me that we could try the new Indian resto that just opened at The Podium.  We agreed to meet up there the weekend before, but unfortunately, he came down with the flu.  I need current material because my most recent opportunity to delight in Indian culinary arts was last year when Partner and I had dinner at The New Bombay Canteen at the ground floor of The Columns on Ayala Avenue.  So once Batman’s schedule frees up again, we’ll pay a visit to that place at The Podium.


For now, the memories of my affair with curry will have to do.


In 2005, I went on an 11-day business-and-very-little-pressure trip to India that saw me experiencing the best cuisine this republic in the Asian subcontinent in Southern Asia has to offer – from the I.T. hub that is Bangalore; to the resort destination of Goa; and ultimately, to the financial capital of Mumbai.  In Bangalore, I stayed at The Park Hotel.  In Goa, at The InterContinental The Grand Resort.  And in Mumbai, at The Leela Kempinski.  These three hotels made a lasting impression on me.  No two were alike.  Each had its own appeal that left me breathless.  The Park Hotel was so modern-day cutting edge.  The InterContinental The Grand Resort was very old world, I felt like I was in that hotel in ‘Casablanca’ (I did, though I’m not quite sure if my comparison of the two really links up).  And The Leela Kempinski?  It was something else – the façade alone was very majestic and imposing.  And the lobby was really something.


The InterContinental The Grand Resort Goa in Goa, India. This is a shot of the garden facing the Arabian Sea!

As in my other previous travels, I kept a travel journal, which this time I called as “eNTeNG’s Rickshaw Diaries.”  Of the ones I took down electronically, I only have the ‘Day 1 / In-Transit To India’ entry in my archives to this day.  The other days, when I was already awashed with work facilitating a management development program, I scribbled my thoughts on a notebook that sadly, I had already lost.  They were vivid accounts of every breakfast I had at the hotels; of every buffet lunch; and, of every fabulous dinner.  I’m allowing myself to use ‘fabulous’ to describe the dinners, as I had a different lobster dish (almost) every night.  Not missed out were all the in-flight food I had because as you can see or surmise from my itinerary, my trip involved a lot of domestic air travel.  And also, just like in Penang, Malaysia, which I had visited three times, I loved Indian hawker food!


I was told that this sunset (by the Arabian Sea in Goa) is one of the best in the world. It was breathtaking...


That's my grilled lobster dinner, by the shore of the Arabian Sea. This has got to be one of the most unforgettable, indulgent lobster dinners I had in Goa.

From my very long day 1 entry, I’m sharing with you a couple of passages.  The first one was while on board my Thai Airways flight from Manila to Bangkok.  And the second one, while on board the flight from Bangkok to Bangalore.  These are all about in-flight food, which unfortunately, a lot of people kinda hate.  But I’ve loved most of those that I have had!


My lobster thermidor dinner! They stuffed rice in the shell... totally not getting my request. Haha! But it was delicious just the same.

 Speaking of real eating pleasure, I had just that…  Between a choice of pork or fish, I asked for the fish.  And it was not disappointing at all!  This I actually knew for a fact since I’ve loved Thai cuisine all my life.  But I give more credit to airlines that can turn their in-flight food into something that’s really sumptuous.  The fish was actually eel and it was grilled to perfection, brushed richly and amply with a savory sweet barbecue sauce.  It was served with plump steamed rice and a generous side dish of three steamed vegetables, namely carrots, bamboo shoots and green chilies.  The green chilies, while looking like our regular Philippine sour soup chilies, were actually and specially hotter and pungent.  But I chowed them down just the same.  The other side dish was a part-raw, part-cooked salad of eggplants (boiled) and fresh green bell pepper strips and red-leaf lettuce (I think) in a sugar cane vinegar reduction with chopped shallots.  There was no menu to describe the dishes but that’s how I got it from how they tasted.    Even at 30,000+ feet up in the sky, I washed down my food with coffee.    To top everything off, I asked for a full glass of tomato juice.  Yum yum!!!


One thing we agreed on was how good the in-flight food was.  They were serving Indian cuisine and it was heaven for me!  I didn’t expect it as I haven’t really tried any of the Indian restaurants in the Philippines.  The chicken curry sent me to gourmet heaven (at 30,000+ feet up there I think I was close!).  The chicken was deboned and so tender.  It was moist and oozing with flavor from the very savory and really really hot and spicy masala concoction.  I think it was a festive medley of freshly ground cumin, turmeric, fennel, ginger, cardamom, coriander, nutmeg, among others.  I really enjoyed it because the cabin crew ended up giving in to my request for a SECOND SERVING of the dinner entrée!  She hushed “I’ll check at the back …” and did come back with that beautiful smile and the piping hot food on her hand.  It was served with steamed Basmati rice.  Even while in California before, I’ve loved Basmati rice.  For me, it was just more flavorful than most others (save for my other favorite, Japanese rice, which was more so because of its texture and being just-right sticky).  You see, Basmati rice is mostly grown in the nice climate of the Himalayan region.  And they are aged for about 5 to 10 years and this only brings out the almost nutty and fragrant qualities of the rice.  More than providing sustenance, Basmati rice has long been regarded as that one thing that helps tie together the many and diverse cultures, traditions, religions, festivities and cuisines of India!  I’m a rice person so a second helping    not just of this rice but the whole dinner entrée    filled and comforted my soul many times over.  On the side, I enjoyed the salad which was a mixture of fruits and vegetables in a really biting garlic vinegar dressing.  It had seedless red grapes, green apples, carrots and lettuce.  The dessert was a gooey slice of a corn-and-coconut native cake.  Of course, I washed everything down with Cognac on the rocks and then two cups of coffee.  And again, a full glass of well-chilled tomato juice.  I especially wanted the tomato juice to sort of ease the ‘hangover’ that was already creeping into my system after being up for 39 hours straight!!!


In one of the places we went to, the restaurant manager allowed me in the kitchen!... That's me watching the chefs at work on my lobster!

And from the ‘Work-Life Effectiveness’ portion of my December 2005 monthly status report at work:

“I love India!!!  I never thought I could, at least for now, finally tick it off from my list of must-go-to places before I really get old.  Like Japan which I had first visited as a teenager, India is one place where the old is harmoniously juxtapositioned with the new – in Bangalore, in Goa, and especially in Mumbai.  And the food???  My gosh, I loved everything – from the Naan, Paratha, Papadam, Roti … to all the vegetable and curry dishes!  I told the friends (that) I made there that I didn’t meet any food I didn’t come to really love.  Even the in-flight food on all the domestic flights were quite heavenly for me that the crew were so generous to give me second helpings.  I’ve actually started falling in love with Indian cuisine when I saw the FoodNetwork TV show “From Martha’s Kitchen” feature Maya Kaimal, the author of the book ‘Savoring The Spice Coast Of India … Fresh Flavors From Kerala.’  The sight of the masala-stuffed bluefish and the spinach thoren were just so salivating.  Bangalore, which is quite evident as a former military garrison city during the midnight ride from the airport to the hotel, is India’s I.T. capital … probably one of the world’s I.T. capitals.  The hotel car driver even brought me to one of Intel’s three offices there … at way past midnight!!!  One imposing structure I saw was the palatial Leela Palace Hotel, the façade of which is an exact replica od the fabled palace of the majarajahs of Mysore.  And of course, I was at awe at how peacefully man shares the streets with the cows.  Goa, on the other hand, is quite famous for being India’s Roman Catholic state.  …being there was like being in the Philippines’ Ilocos region.  With over a hundred churches and basilicas around, I was often reminded that this was indeed a former Portugese colony.  Of all these old churches, it was the visit to the Basilica De Bom Jesus (Portugese for ‘Basilica Of Good Jesus’), the best example of Baroque architecture in India, that was so amazing.  There we saw the relics of the body of St. Francis Xavier, best friend of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society Of Jesus.  Later on, I would learn that this church is actually a UNESCO world heritage site.  The last leg of our visit to India was in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), the center of India’s bustling film industry, Bollywood.  Memorable places to visit in Mumbai were the Portugese churches, government offices (that looked like cathedrals), and train stations (that also looked like cathedrals!!!).  The main street actually brought back to mind my trips to San Francisco – it felt like being in the Bay Area!  There was also the grand ‘Gateway To India,’ structure where colonizers docked.  It’s a 25-meter high stone archway, designed by George Wittet in the 16th century Gujarat style and was built to commemorate the visit in 1911 of King George V and Queen Mary to India.  I could actually go on and on … but I have ‘eNTeNG’s Rickshaw Diaries’ to dump all these raves into.”